Editor's note: The following is a guest article from Charla Griffy-Brown, PhD, Professor of Information Systems and Technology Management at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School.
Over the past month, major companies, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and Morgan Stanley, announced they would permit large numbers of employees to work from home on a long term or permanent basis.
The practice of extended or indefinite work-from-home is growing. Twitter and Square's CEO, Jack Dorsey, along with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently notified employees of a permanent work from home policy. Many other tech companies followed suit.
Perhaps less surprising, the acceptance of working remotely is also strongly supported by employees. A recent Gallup poll showed 59% of U.S. workers who moved to remote work on account of the pandemic indicated they would like to continue working from home even after the COVID-19 crisis ends.
Tens of thousands of workers who were once unfamiliar with video conferencing have, in a few short months, achieved expertise. They will naturally keep using these technologies and likely incorporate them into the post-COVID-19 business norm.
What are the potential opportunities for diversity, equity, and inclusion? Can we leverage this shift not only for creating stronger more economically robust communities but also to create stronger businesses with healthier employees?
With that in mind, here are five factors driving work from home arrangements that point to opportunities for community building and employee arrangements that have potential for addressing problems the pandemic unveiled in stark reality: unhealthy work/life habits and the need for greater diversity, equity and inclusion.
A mindset shift
There is a collective, growing mindset supercharging the adoption of digital technologies. This will go beyond traditional technology adoption and be seen most starkly geographically as some trends slowly reverse.
For example, Richard Florida coined the term "superstar" metropolitans, places where ambitious and skilled people feel they need to be.
But in recent years, metropolitans benefiting from tech centralization — source of much of their wealth — have faced the "new urban crisis."
Riddled with affordability and quality of life issues, now coupled with a psychology of social distancing that will leave a shadow as people reexamine risk and family-life differently.
Hunt for housing
Affordable housing is more available in remote locations and the digital infrastructure required to reliably work from home is stronger.
Traditionally, people move to cities because cities are job hubs. But cities have become unaffordable and create economic hardship for millions of people.
Now with companies welcoming a remote workforce, cities, suburban and rural areas are set to dramatically change. At one point in April, Americans were relocating at twice the pace they did a year earlier, a trend that continued into mid-May, according to data firm Cuebiq.
Out of office job growth
Future job growth will not hinge on working in an office. According to Brookings, more than one-third of the nation's digital services job growth in the last decade was concentrated in five metro areas: New York, Seattle, Boston, San Francisco, and San Jose, California.
The success of a few large metropolises created geographic inequality and bottlenecks in economic growth in other areas.
Bridging the wealth gap
Personal wealth growing opportunities will be more balanced. By creating a remote workforce, the U.S. can expand economic wealth and the digital potential for communities that have been "left behind."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that increased adoption of online tools and digital services for businesses across rural American could add $140 billion to the U.S. economy and create more than 360,000 jobs.
The opportunity gap will close between the tech elites and tech novices. With higher-wage jobs moving toward permanent remote work, the U.S. moves away from "superstar" metropolitans decentralizing tech across the nation and fostering new tech jobs.
Remote work impacts how society connects, opening up a broader attack surface and increasing the need for cyber-physical security.
Boards and executives should put together "innovation strike-forces" within their organizations to reimagine their future products, services, and how they will do business.
This rapid shift could be a magnitude change, if anticipated and supported through infrastructure growth, including investments in education and services, and intentional corporate efforts to address long-standing equity issues.
The new, digital normal
Though COVID-19 brought tremendous negative impacts, it also left little choice for workers to adjust to a new, digital normal.
The new digital transformation is not only creating new product/service variations, but leadership, operations and organizational design is also being transformed.
This means that digital leadership, including command/control, is being reinvented. Operations and infrastructure can now be completely decoupled from geography to more efficiently execute delivering new value to stakeholders, including employees.
Industry faces the opportunity for both leadership and employees to develop new skill sets and ask deeper questions regarding employee health, productivity, how to create broader diversity, equity and inclusion — which could fuel increased top-line and bottom-line corporate growth.
To achieve these goals we should collectively ask better questions such as:
- What infrastructure supports stronger communities?
- Who is missing from this massive economic shift and how can we include them?
- How do we ensure all voices are heard in this digital environment?
- What investments now will support short- and long-term social and economic growth?
- What digital, data literacy, and cybersecurity skills are required for this new workforce?
- How do we ensure all Americans have a basic set of digital, data literacy and cybersecurity skills to equitably ensure growth instead of a larger digital divide?
As the U.S. begins to recover and develop a new "normal," the vibrant tech titans of the U.S. and business leaders have a unique opportunity to recognize the concentration of prosperity and invest in a more stable future across a larger geography with broader diversity, equity, and inclusion.
COVID-19 has given us perspective, and together we have the opportunity to create a future worth wanting.